ST. LOUIS -- When Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak heads to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for baseball's annual Winter Meetings, he finds himself in a somewhat unusual position.
If it were necessary, the Cardinals could take the roster they have to Spring Training in Jupiter, Fla., next February. It's not what they'd like to do. But they could. St. Louis has five starting pitchers and at least some sort of viable option at all eight everyday positions. The Cards have enough pitchers to fill out a bullpen and enough role players on the roster to complete a bench.
It's not what they want to do. It's not what they will do. But they could, and that buys Mozeliak the opportunity to be patient. And of course, patience has been a hallmark of the current Cardinals front office in recent years.
"There's no doubt we could roll a club out today," Mozeliak said. "But I don't envision the current constitution of our roster to look like this six or seven weeks from now. I still think it's evolving, and it's a very fluid situation. I expect that there are going to be some opportunities.
"I think as we continue to look at these things, there are things that will appear or disappear. And our job is to make sure that as we look to solidify our lineup, we're able to take advantage of some opportunities that may arise between now and January."
When the Cardinals do move to bolster their roster, they'll be looking at a few key areas. They'd like to upgrade in the middle infield, particularly at shortstop. They need a backup catcher and they would like another left-handed reliever. Bench depth is also an area that could be addressed, but Mozeliak indicated that he's not in a hurry to add a veteran to the team's bench.
The infield is clearly the area of attention, and it could be addressed in a couple of different ways. St. Louis would like to find some insurance at third base, in case David Freese's recovery from ankle surgery falls behind schedule. An offensive upgrade at shortstop would also be welcome. At second, the Redbirds might benefit from a platoon partner and/or defensive replacement for Skip Schumaker, but they're not in a hurry to displace Schumaker entirely.
"Both guys [Ryan and Schumaker] had below-expectations [seasons] in terms of their offense," Mozeliak said. "When you look at believing who's more likely to have the bounce-back, that's part of it. Also it's just the availability of some help that might be out there. But I would finish by saying that we're not necessarily tied to just that strategy. There are some other things we can do. We're open-minded."
One thing the Cardinals are not likely to do is sign a Type A free agent who was offered arbitration. St. Louis would be loath to give up its first-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
"I would say it would have to be a very special player," Mozeliak said. "Ideally we would not like to lose our Draft pick."
That may rule out Juan Uribe, who would have fit some of the Cardinals' needs and has been reported to be a player of interest to the club. The Giants offered arbitration to Uribe, so if the Cardinals were to sign him, they would give San Francisco their first pick in 2011.
That's not to say they won't add any free agents. The Cards do have a little money to spend. They have just about $88 million committed before they start paying arbitration-eligible and pre-arbitration players. So there's a little wiggle room if the target is $100 million, but not a huge amount.
Still, the trade market may provide more bang for the Cardinals' buck than free agency. Several middle infielders have been rumored or reported to be available in trade. And St. Louis has one quantity that's always in demand in trades: right-handed relief. The Cards are deep in quality bullpen arms, something that might help them make a match with another club at the Winter Meetings.
Whether or not the Redbirds get something finished at the Winter Meetings, they likely won't be done looking around when they head back to St. Louis. They've only made one move at the Winter Meetings since 2005 (with the exception of Rule 5 Draft selections), always staying active in the succeeding weeks. The second half of the pattern, at least, should continue in 2010.
"We've never looked at Winter Meetings solely as a roster-fill week," Mozeliak said. "There's a lot of things that go on in the industry. That's why you're there. But I think with a lot of the dialogue and discussions that we've had, leading into the Winter Meetings we may be a little ahead of schedule [as compared to] past years. But that's not to say that we could get to that point and still not have deals done. I don't look at the Winter Meetings as really kind of apex for us of anything."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.